Pennridge saw its season end in the Flyers Cup Tournament semifinals. Coach Jeff Montagna reflects on the season and the bright future of the program.
#3 HAVERFORD 4, #10 PENNRIDGE 1
Two years ago, on March 14, 2019, Pennridge saw its successful season come to an end in the Flyers Cup semifinals with a 3-2 loss to Downingtown East.
“We were in that with 13 seniors, and I told the guys (Wednesday) night that I left the rink that night not really knowing what to expect moving forward,” Pennridge coach Jeff Montagna said.
What the Rams’ coach might not have expected was returning to that same spot two years later, but that’s exactly what happened. The 10th-seeded Rams put up a valiant fight and trailed third-seeded Haverford by just a 2-1 score with 10 minutes remaining in Wednesday’s Flyers Cup semifinal game at Ice Line before falling 4-1 to dangerous Haverford squad.
“I knew we had some talent, but you’re not really sure,” Montagna said. “The cool thing about it was we got back there this year, and we’re going to be even better next year.
“Of the 18 that dressed, we have 14 of them returning. I have an 11-man freshman class coming in next year. Coming into this year, I knew we could be pretty good, and we could make a little bit of a run at it, but all along, next year was the year we really have a chance to make some noise.”
Seven of the 18 dressed for the Rams in Wednesday’s semifinal were freshmen or sophomores.
“They all pretty much got a regular shift, and they got a lot of experience,” Montagna said. “It’s a lot different feeling walking out there (on Wednesday) than it was two years ago. I wish the season started tomorrow.”
Montagna’s optimism is understandable. Especially after the Rams’ strong showing against the Central League champion Fords, who rolled through league play without a loss with all except two of those wins by double-digits.
The Rams stunned the Fords when they got on the scoreboard 13:25 into the opening period when Aeryk Lehrhaupt turned a pass from Aidan Boyle into a short-handed goal. The Rams negated a pair of Haverford power plays in the period and led 1-0 when it ended.
“I thought the key to us getting off to a really good start was - Haverford is lethal on the power play,” Montagna said. “They had five power play goals against CB South, and the four penalty killers I went with in the first two periods in Aeryk Lehrhaupt, Blake Stewart, Andrew David and Jack Lowery were just phenomenal.
“The ability to get a short-handed goal and then kill off three or four penalties against a team that probably has the best power play in this area – more than anything, that set the tone. We killed off six power plays. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the defensemen because they were great on it too, but a lot of our penalty kill starts with the forwards, and the forwards were phenomenal on the penalty kill.”
Haverford’s Quinn Carson and Alex Gattone each scored a goal late in the second period to make it a 2-1 game, and that score stood until 6:44 in the final period when Jacob Orazi scored. A goal by Daniel Quartapella closed out the scoring.
Pennridge goalie Ryan Pico also played a major role in keeping the game close, turning away 33 shots in a standout performance.
“Haverford has not been challenged all year,” Montagna said. “They have one loss to West Chester East who’s probably the best A or AA team in the area. Other than that, Haverford has absolutely blown the doors off of everybody they’ve played.
“Everyone told our guys how good Haverford was – you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, and they didn’t back down even an inch from that team. It helped that we got that early short-handed goal – that jumpstarted us a little bit.”
Making the Rams’ strong showing even more impressive was the fact that it came on the heels of a devastating loss to Pennsbury in the semifinals of the SHSHL Tournament.
“We were up 5-3 with seven minutes left and lost,” Montagna said. “They could have very easily just rolled over at that point, but they got even better after that, and it was cool to watch.”
Pennridge’s regular season also was not without its ups and downs.
“We started off really, really well this year, and then we had some shutdowns, and we didn’t get to practice a lot, and we went through a really, really tough stretch in the middle of the season where we lost four games in a row,” Montagna said. “I just decided, ‘You know what? We’re going to play and whatever happens happens.’ Not really looking ahead to next year.
“I knew the freshmen were really good, but it’s hard to know when they are really ready to contribute. I had four really good freshmen players – Andrew Savona, Kevin Pico, Tyler Manto and Colin Dachowski - that really contributed in the second half of the year, and that’s really what got me excited moving forward.”
Next year’s team will be led by a strong junior class, and the long rebuild that looked inevitable when the Rams graduated 13 seniors two years ago was brief indeed.
“That’s what I’m proud of,” Montagna said. “It’s hard to lose that many really good hockey players, and since losing them, we’ve won three Flyers Cup games – we won one last year and two more this year.
“The program’s just in really, really good shape moving forward. They turned the corner towards the end of the year. It’s kind of weird how it happens. We weren’t playing well and then all of a sudden it clicked a little bit, and we had a really good stretch to end the season.”
Pennridge 1-0-0 1
Haverford 0-2-2 4
First period: 1. Aeryk Lehrhaupt P (Aidan Boyle) 13:25.
Second period: 2. Quinn Carson H (Daniel Quartapella/Nate Rabadam) 11:41; 3. Alex Gattone H (Daniel Quartapella/Quinn Carson) 15:13.
Third period: 4. Jacob Orazi H (Jagur McClelland/Cally Moran) 6:44; 5. Daniel Quartapella H (Quinn Carson) 10:14.
Shots: Pennridge 18, Haverford 37. Saves: Ryan Pico (P) 33, Jai Jani (H) 17.